It’s been an interesting, and somewhat difficult season at Miller Park this year, with the Brewers stuck in the mud at 38-45 heading toward the All-Star break. With injuries to expected key contributors Jonathan Lucroy, Alex Gonzalez, and Mat Gamel the Brewer offense has been drained of a good amount of its expected power. Ricky Weeks’ drastic decline in performance (.193/.312/.634 with 6 homers) and the fact that Cesar Izturis has been given 114 at-bats where he hit .209/.230/.297 with 4 total extra-base hits and 1 steal speak to the level of offensive desperation Roenicke must feel in the dugout. Because of this Roenicke has made the squeeze bunt his best friend, trying to muster all the runs he can around Ryan Braun and Corey Hart homers, using the tactic 7 times already this season. The squeeze bunt can be broken into two different categories, the safety squeeze, which means the base runner does not start running home until the bunt has been laid down, and the suicide squeeze, which means the man on the bases is barreling home as soon as he sees the opportunity to get a good jump. Let’s break down each of the Brewers squeeze bunts, and discuss why they were successful :
April 9th vs. Chicago in a 7-5 Brewers win
Roenicke actually uses the tactic twice in the game against the Cubbies. His first application came in the 3rd inning with pitcher Shaun Marcum at the plate, and Alex Gonzalez, a player with good speed, at 3rd base. As you can see, Gonzalez takes a liberal lead off of 3rd base and only begins taking off toward the plate after he recognizes that the pitcher is indeed throwing that ball toward the plate. This is a suicide squeeze because Gonzalez will be caught in no-man’s-land between 3rd and home, and will probably be picked off by Geovany Soto, the Cubs catcher. Marcum also gets full credit for laying down an excellent bunt. Even though he bunted it back toward the pitcher, he was able to deaden the ball enough to easily score the run. Very nice job.
In the top of the 8th with the Brewers up 6-3, Roenicke was able to steal another run, utilizing the light-hitting Carlos Gomez (.242/.291/.431) and the not-so-fleet-of-foot, Mat Gamel, to bring in a much needed insurance run. This time Roenicke puts on the safety squeeze, which keeps the runner at 3rd base until the ball is bunted. This play relies on the bunter, Gomez, to put the ball in a difficult spot on the field for the defense, usually by forcing the 3rd or 1st baseman to field the ball away from home plate. The bunt came as a surprise to the defense, which was playing straight up, and Gomez pushed it hard toward first, advancing both runners while getting the RBI.
April 17th vs. Los Angeles in a 5-4 Brewers win
In the bottom of the 7th against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Roenicke again found himself calling for the squeeze bunt, utilizing his new favorite weapon, Norichika Aoki. Aoki came over from the Nippon Pro League this season at the ripe age of 30. He’s been a godsend for a wounded Brewers squad, hitting .300/.363/.442 (OPS+ of 114) with 10 steals. Aoki is also 2nd among position players in sacrifice hits with 6 this season. With Mat Gamel again on 3rd base, Roenicke would get a little more ballsy this time, calling for the suicide squeeze, with both players perfectly executing the play. Gamel took off on first movement and was able to score the go-ahead run. The game would be tied up the next inning on an Andre Ethier homerun, but the Brewers needed this vital run to win the game in the 9th inning.
May 4th vs. San Francisco in a 6-4 Brewers win
This time it was a great play made by the base runner, Jonathan Lucroy, which brought home the insurance run for the Brewers. Lucroy, running on the suicide squeeze, got a fantastic jump and was a little over halfway down the 3rd base line by the time the ball was bunted. Travis Ishikawa was able to do the basics of the job, getting the bunt down in play, and even though it was almost too close to Buster Posey, the run was still able to score. Excellent base running by Lucroy, a catcher who only has 8 career steals.
May 12th vs. Chicago in an 8-2 Brewers win
In the 8th inning of a 6-2 game, Roenicke decided to get one more insurance run, using his best bunter, and one of the best in the league, Norichika Aoki to perfection on a safety squeeze. Aoki lays down a beautiful bunt to the right side of the infield, and it easily scores Travis Ishikawa. The Brewers have abused the Cubs this season with the squeeze play, performing it 3 times while going an impressive 7-3 against one of baseball’s worst teams.
May 30th vs. Los Angeles in a 6-3 Brewers win
In the top of the 6th against a red-hot Dodgers squad, Roenicke used his replacement for Jonathan Lucroy, Martin Maldonado, a 25-year-old catcher, to lay down a perfect bunt, which gave the Brew Crew another insurance run. Maldonado has been a league average hitter this season, batting .263/.318/.424 this year in Lucroy’s absence, and Roenicke played the odds, moving Gomez in scoring position as well, staying out of the double play. It speaks to the organization as a whole that Milwaukee can call players up that can immediately play Brewer-style baseball, which means doing things like laying down bunts in high pressure situations.
July 2nd vs. Miami in a 6-5 Brewers win
Another common trait you have no-doubt noticed by now is that all of these games are Brewers wins. This doesn’t mean that Milwaukee should squeeze bunt more frequently because they win every time they execute it well, it just means that when teams execute well and do the little things right, good things can happen. The best way to win games has and always will be to score runs by bashing the baseball and to pitch well. Little things like bunting can make a big difference every once in a while though, and none of these bunts demonstrates this better than Norichika Aoki’s safety squeeze single against the Marlins earlier this week.
This is the perfect bunt for the situation. The pitcher has absolutely no chance to field the baseball, as the ball has been bunted too hard and too far down the line for his reach. This requires the Marlin 1st baseman, Greg Dobbs, to field the ball in poor position to make a throw to the plate. In desperation, Dobbs attempts to throw home, firing late, and all base runners are safe. It’s also important to note that Rickie Weeks gets an excellent secondary lead on the pitch, reducing the distance he has to travel while still staying close enough to 3rd to make it back in time in case the ball is not bunted successfully. This mix of intelligent strategy from Roenicke and proper execution out of his players is what makes the Brewers a fun ball club to watch, even though their record, 38-45, has them stuck in the lower half of the NL Central.